Witnesses who called 911 after the crash of a charter bus that killed at least 16 people described a chaotic scene, telling emergency workers of bloody passengers crushed beneath the smoking wreckage, according to calls released Saturday by police.
The unlicensed bus carrying 55 members of a Vietnamese Catholic group from Houston to Carthage, Mo., for a religious festival smashed into a guardrail and skidded off a highway early Friday near the Texas-Oklahoma state line. Twelve people died at the scene and four more died at hospitals.
One emergency call began with a female crash victim speaking in accented English over the screams and moans of other passengers. After struggling to answer the 911 operator's questions, she handed the phone to a man who had apparently arrived at the scene immediately after the crash.
“We've got people crushed underneath the bus,” the man said. “The bus is smoking. It might catch fire.”
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A female caller told a 911 operator that there were passengers “just everywhere out here laid out on the ground. They are bloody.” Another caller said: “There's people screaming for help.”
Most of the passengers were from the Vietnamese Martyrs Church and two other mostly Vietnamese congregations in Houston, heading to an annual festival honoring the Virgin Mary.
By late Saturday morning, bouquets of carnations, tulips and roses were left on an embankment.
Authorities said the vehicle's right front tire, which blew out, had been retreaded in violation of safety standards, said Debbie Hersman, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. The tread separated from the tire in a process called delamination. It is legal to retread such tires but they may not be used on the wheels that steer the bus, she said.
After the tire blew out, the bus skidded about 130 feet before striking a guardrail, Hersman said. It then traveled nearly 120 feet before coming to rest down the embankment.
Authorities said Saturday they believe the 2002 model bus, a 45-foot long motor coach, was equipped with a device that could record information, similar to a black box.
The driver, 52-year-old Barrett Wayne Broussard, had a commercial license, but his medical certification expired in May, according to the NTSB. Broussard was stable at a hospital.
The bus was registered under temporary tags that were to expire Saturday, Hersman said. The NTSB is looking into the history of the sale of the bus, which was sold by a bus company in New York.